Gibraltar's Magnificent 7: Only Nakamura Opens With 2 Wins

Gibraltar's Magnificent 7: Only Nakamura Opens With 2 Wins

| 16 | Chess Event Coverage

No one has won four editions of the top section of the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival, but GM Hikaru Nakamura couldn't have been gift-wrapped a better chance to make history.

Not only did he open 2-0 in attempting to also become the first to win three straight, but his six strongest roadblocks all squandered half points on the second day. All that is, except for GM Vassily Ivanchuk, who inexplicably dropped the entire point when he simply omitted a box and wrote down a move in the improper cell and lost on time on move 40.

GM Hikaru Nakamura is the highest-rated of the 37 players still with perfect scores. | Photo: John Saunders for Gibraltar Chess Festival.

The second day's unexpected results could be read top to bottom like a bad report card. Before we get to that, excitement also permeated the opening day, Tuesday.

GM Nigel Short, the only man other than the leader who could also win his fourth event on "The Rock," did his best thinking in the bathroom. No, this wasn't another case of hidden cell phones in the loo.

After GM Nigel Short's slow start, he was paired in round two with IM Robert Bellin, the man whom he tied in 1979 for the British Championship! (Photo: John Saunders for Gibraltar Chess Festival)

Short told he was ready to resign his first game against his FM opponent after 44.Rb1. In fact, many other moves win too, but while handling nature's business, Short conjured an idea of a miraculous save in case of 44.Rb4. Call it the "Flux Capacitor Defense," only unlike Doc Brown in "Back to the Future," he didn't have to bump his head on the toilet to find it.

The French gathering always shows up well in Gibraltar (Spain and Germany are tied for largest contingent with 25 players each). GM Sebastian Maze has played two wild games to start the event 1.5/2, but his opener was arguably the most swashbuckling. At points, he offered his e-, f-, b-, and c-pawns. In the end, Black finally succumbed to the relentless energy.

GM Veselin Topalov had one of the shortest games of the round, despite having a GM opponent unlike most of the other top seeds. See if you can spot his way to a sub-two-hour game.

In an open event, the first round is also "upset watch." Despite most matches separated by 400+ rating points, when you have more than 125 iterations, some surprises are bound to happen. None was bigger than GM Abhijeet Gupta who went down as White to FM Frank Buchenau of Germany. The grandmaster got to underpromote, but had to resign a move later.

After round one, an eclectic mix of speeches and performances honored the 15th anniversary of top-level chess in Gibraltar. Tournament founder Brian Callghan OBE presented awards for many of the "lifers" that have been attending every year. He also expressed dismay that Gibraltar, unlike other non-sovereign entities of the United Kingdom like Jersey and Guernsey, does not have FIDE federation status. He worried this would hamper the ability of local players to thrive.

Then things really took a took during the dessert course when two cross-dressing cabaret dancers sang renditions of the musical "Chicago" and some originals whilst serenaded some unwitting masters.

Not your normal chess entertainment! | Photo: Sophie Triay for Gibraltar Chess Festival.

Tournament Director GM Stuart Conquest: "What, I'm not in charge of this!" | Photo: Sophie Triay for Gibraltar Chess Festival.

The next day it was back to the business at the board. While Nakamura won again, most of the other favorites were nicked for a half-point or more. As for the top two players, they were somewhat fortunate just to get that.

GM Fabiano Caruana had no space and serious issues on the kingside, but he held it together thanks to a necessary obstruction tactic against Argentinian IM Krysa Leandro.

One board lower down, GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (who, like Caruana, has never won here) was involved in a tactical melee. Right when his opponent IM Nitzan Steinberg may have gone for it, the two repeated moves.

For Steinberg's analysis, click here and skip to 3:22:17.

IM Nitzan Steinberg had the world number five on the ropes.|Photo: Sophie Triay for Gibraltar Chess Festival.

Steinberg's Israeli countryman, IM Ori Kobo, also sought a draw but did even better! With Ivanchuk's clock perilously close to zero on several occasions, he had one last move to make in a relatively docile position where even a "passing" move would be fine, and he could push for the win. Unbeknownst to him, he was on move 39, not 40. While everyone at home knew the truth, Ivanchuk did not and allowed his remaining time to elapse.

The arbiter came over and pointed at the culprit—Ivanchuk just forgot to record the bottom move of the first column of his scoresheet. The box for move 24 was left empty; he had unknowingly skipped notating in that move's proper cell, which cost him the game.

Ivanchuk spoiled the enterprising idea 11.g4:

Maze had another messy game, eventually drawing down two exchanges. His opponent missed a beautiful win. See if you can find it:

Gibraltar also has many women's prizes, so we'll conclude with a fascinating game from WIM Yuliya Shvager. Although she only drew, the instructive idea 16...c3! was necessary and found.

There are still about a half-dozen women on 2/2. GM Hou Yifan has thus far been a woman-wrecking crew, and she will try to keep it up Thursday as she plays her third consecutive female (this time GM Anna Muzychuk).

GM Kateryna Lagno is one of seven women on 2/2, which represents 19 percent of the perfet scores. | Photo: John Saunders for Gibraltar Chess Festival.

Late Wednesday, another feature of the Gibraltar festival began—evening master classes. GM Veselin Topalov led off the series by showing examples of tactical blind spots. He showed many examples of how the "automatic capture" can sometimes be wrong, as well as one position that computers need 30 minutes to solve but strong GMs solve in only a few minutes.

In the Q&A session that followed, we learned of the difficult training sessions he had with IM Mark Dvoretsky, that he feels the world championship time control should be accelerated to "one hour or one-and-a-half hours," and that he feels the art has been stricken from chess, leaving only sports and science.

Here are the fascinating positions and talkback that followed:

Co-presenter GM Stuart Conquest asked, "How's your relationship with [Vladimir] Kramnik these days, is it difficult?"

"No, it is not difficult," Topalov said. "It is just non-existent!" Then he paused for the laughter in the room to subside and added, "He is like Meryl Streep. Overrated."

FM Mike Klein

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Mike Klein began playing chess at the age of four in Charlotte, NC. In 1986, he lost to Josh Waitzkin at the National Championship featured in the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer." A year later, Mike became the youngest member of the very first All-America Chess Team, and was on the team a total of eight times. In 1988, he won the K-3 National Championship, and eventually became North Carolina's youngest-ever master. In 1996, he won clear first for under-2250 players in the top section of the World Open. Mike has taught chess full-time for a dozen years in New York City and Charlotte, with his students and teams winning many national championships. He now works at as a Senior Journalist and at as the Chief Chess Officer. In 2012, 2015, and 2018, he was awarded Chess Journalist of the Year by the Chess Journalists of America. He has also previously won other awards from the CJA such as Best Tournament Report, and also several writing awards for mainstream newspapers. His chess writing and personal travels have now brought him to more than 85 countries.

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